This week Mark Cavendish will ply his trade in the Tour of Britain, just a week after he returned to winning form in the Tour de Poitou-Charentes by securing back to back victories during the 5 day race in France. Firstly, I would like to send my congratulations to the Manx Missile himself and secondly to doff my hat to the medics, who set him on his road to recovery following that devastating crash on stage 1 of the tour de France.s
His return to racing on the 12th of August in the Tour de I’Ain, came just 5 weeks after having surgery to stabilise his acromioclavicular joint, after he dislocated it in the crash. So what exactly is so impressive with the speed of his recovery and his return to top form? He is, after all, a professional cyclist and this is what he does for a living. He didn’t even injure his legs, how hard can it be?
At this point you must be wondering where on earth am I going with this? How does this relate in any way to me? Well give me a moment and I’ll try to explain why the shoulder, and in particular the acromioclavicular joint (ACJ), is so important to a cyclist’s performance and how, with some help from you ever friendly Cyclissimo Physio, can help you to improve performance and have a more pleasurable cycling experience.
So first off, let’s take a look at the basics and start with the boring bit, the anatomy. I will then move on to explain how we can help make those long rides more comfortable and improve performance by addressing the shoulder. This is really important when you are out on club rides, sprinting for that ever distant lamp post.
So looking at the diagram, the ACJ is the joint between the acromion part of the shoulder blade and the clavicle, simple. Surely such a small joint can’t be all that important? Well predictably, yes it can.
You can see from the shoulder complex that your arm is only attached to the stermum by the clavicle (collarbone). Ok so a little poetic licence by me as obviously there are numerous muscles that attach from your thorax, but it does form the only true joint. Now attached to the collarbone are some fairly meaty muscles, pectoralis, trapezius and deltoids being three of the biggest.
So when cycling along on a lovely bumpy British road, all those shocks pulsate through the handlebars and are then absorbed by your shoulder, going through your ACJ. Now on top of absorbing all those bumps you start to sprint; using all your might you swing the bike from left to right, hurtling toward that distant lamp post, going for glory and for the prestige of being first in your club run. Your muscles strain with every sinew as you race against your mates to be crowned sprint extraordinaire. Your thoughts on not the avoidance of strain and injury.
From this scenario it isn’t hard to understand just how painful a dislocated ACJ can be and how much strength is lost around the shoulder girdle post surgery. So for Cavendish to be back out there winning sprints again, particularly against some fairly stiff competition is extremely impressive.
How can we use this info to make you a better rider? Firstly, shock absorption and body positioning. I don’t want to sound like a broken record, but getting your bike set up correctly is always the first thing to do. Secondly, bad posture on a bike can often lead to tight muscles in the front of your shoulders. Stretching these out or using a foam roller can alleviate any soreness you might experience. Lastly, the muscles at the back of your shoulder often become lengthened and weakened, so strengthening these muscles helps to pull your shoulders into a ‘good posture’. Once your shoulders sit in a good place, bumps will be absorbed better minimising discomfort, particularly in the front of the shoulders.
Now for what’s really important, beating your mates to that elusive lamp post. When you ride, it’s obviously your legs which propel you along. The steadier you are on the bike (i.e. not nodding your head or rolling your pelvis or shoulders) the less energy you waste. Look at Bradley Wiggins’ time trial, he’s like a swan in a lake; serine up top, legs going like the clappers underneath! When you sprint you’re using every muscle to push that gear round and propel your bike onwards. It is just as important to maintain the kinetic chain of strength, making sure every effort goes to the peddle. Being weak around the shoulders will break this chain and slow you down.
Shameless plug time, why not come out to Italy? Here you will not only have a great time cycling some fantastic roads, but also gain invaluable advice on injury prevention. Our workshops will train you to become more physically robust as a cyclist and will improve your overall performance.
We are also offering you the chance of having the elite performance team here at Cyclissimo come to your club to talk about physiotherapy, injury prevention, sports science, physiology and nutrition. So please if you’re interested get in contact via twitter, alternatively tweet us with any questions you may have.
Good luck to Cav, with his amazing ability to heal and his sheer bloody mindedness in pursuit for stage wins this week at the Tour of Britain.